Issue #66  1/6/2004
Phillips Breaks Over $3 Million On Regular Fall Sale to Net $4.5 Million For Its Three-Day Total

Auction coverage provided by Stephen Perloff, editor of the Photograph Collector Newsletter, and Alex Novak, Vintage Works, Ltd.

Phillips regular multi-owner evening sale on October 17 seemed to be missing a few of the swells who would appear out of nowhere at their 57th Street location, but nonetheless a packed house greeted some of the most exciting material of the season. All the prices below include the buyer's premium.

Phillips sale started off on a high note, setting a world's auction record for German contemporary photographer Elger Esser at $21,510, even though this was just at the low point of the estimate range. A phone bidder took home lot 1, a dyptic of Chattressac, France.

NY dealer Edwynn Houk, who usually bids mostly on 20th-century pieces, took home a decent mammoth plate of Mirror View of the North Dome, Yosemite by Carleton Watkins for well over the high estimate at $20,315.

A phone bidder took Edward Weston's Clouds at the low estimate, $29,875. Collector Sondra Gilman adopted Alexander Rodchenko's Mother for $31,070. Rodchenko's Pine Trees in Puschking ($8,000-$12,000) then soared to $33,460 as two phone bidders battled it out.

Robert Mapplethorpe's Calla Lily ($10,000-$15,000) flowered in the room at $45,410, then his Fish and Flag both brought $27,485 from two different phone bidders. Vera Lutter's Rockefeller Center West III edged above its high estimate at $50,190, another world auction record and seventh highest price of the two-day sale.

Then came the much-anticipated William Eggleston Tricycle, titled Memphis. Given the rise in Eggleston prices the $90,000-$120,000 estimate seemed likely and a record price possible. I suppose one could find slightly more refined transportation than a tricycle at this price level, but the toy proved to be turbocharged as in zoomed up to Maserati price levels. In the end Santa Monica gallerist Rose Shoshana watched the prize drive off in the hands of a phone bidder at a world auction record for the artist of $207,500--about $60,000 more than two Tricycles that sold just a year ago (here at Phillips and in a private sale by Howard Greenberg). Only 20 years ago you could have bought one for under $2,000.

Normally, this record price would make any auction house's evening, and indeed, the $35,850 New York dealer Yancey Richardson paid for Eggleston's Southern Suite ($12,000-$18,000) and the disappointing pass at $38,000 on Walker Evans's Havana Kitchen ($50,000-$70,000) were muted by the buzz on Memphis.

Sondra Gilman took the now hot Louis Faurer's 52nd St. Pier Looking toward United Nations Building, NY away from a phone bidder for $21,510.

And even more good material followed. San Francisco dealer Robert Koch snared Robert Frank's London--two men in top hats and furled umbrellas walking away from the camera--for $33,460, over the high estimate. Frank's Political Rally--Chicago filled the party's coffers to the tune of $50,190 (eighth place), and a problematic print of Frank's City Fathers--Hoboken, New Jersey still managed to bring $41,825 from a woman in the room. Dealer Edwynn Houk then took Frank's Denver (Richard and Pat Nixon) for $20,315.

Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still #23 ($100,000-$150,000) was a box office bust as it passed at $75,000. But a run of important Diane Arbus material followed.

Rick Wester bid $25,095 for Diane Arbus's Girl with a Beehive Hairdo, N.Y.C., just under low estimate. And a phone bidder captured Arbus's Girl in a Watchcap, N.Y.C. for $68,115, over the high estimate (sixth place).

A particularly fine copy of Arbus's much anticipated A Box of Ten Photographs followed and the room collectively moved to the edges of their seats. No one expected the estimate of $90,000-$120,000 to hold. A copy sold at Christie's for $90,500 back in 1999, well before the current Arbus run-up. Bidding was at an absolute frenzy, like barracudas roiling the waters, as many new bidders jumped in at lower levels. Paul Kopeikin finally dropped out at $210,000. When the bidding reached $250,000 Jeffrey Fraenkel yelled out "$300,000!" in an attempt to trump the field. It did not work. Rose Shoshana finally forced Fraenkel to surrender with a bid of $350,000. The spent crowd watched in stunned anticipation as auctioneer Simon de Pury's gavel was about to hit the table to complete the sale. But NO! One more paddle was raised at the last second. Shoshana was frozen like a batter whose knees were buckled by a sharp breaking curveball. SOLD! for $360,000--$405,500 with premium. The winner was Natica Wilson of Gagosian Gallery bidding for a client. For the record, Shoshana and Fraenkel were also bidding for clients. And, yes, this was a world record for the artist at auction, although admittedly for a group of images.

But there was no rest. Two more Arbuses sold over high estimate. Xmas Tree in a Living Room, Levittown, L.I. went to the phone for $147,000, the third highest price of the sale, and Fraenkel came back to fulfill his fantasy as he took A Castle in Disneyland, CA. for $95,600--fourth highest price in the sale.

The evening ended as the phones came back to take Francesca Woodman's Self-Deceit, Rome for $83,650 (fifth place) and Irving Penn's Twelve of the Most Photographed Models of the Period for $31,070. Pictures by Nan Goldin, Matthew Barney and Pierre et Gilles all passed.

Phillips' sale the next morning was bound to be a bit quieter, but it had its moments.

The first lot, (#60, Josef Albers's Bruno & Schifra Caneresi, Ascona, VIII) set a world record for the artist at $21, 510. A phone bidder took the image. The money from the image will reportedly be donated by the collectors who owned the image to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, according to a report in the New York Times.

Arbus's Circus Fat Lady and Her Dog, Troubles were taken in by a commission bidder at the low estimate, $23,900. Dorothea Lange's Damaged Child went just under the low estimate, but still real money at $65,725. Robert Frank's portrait of his son Pablo doubled its low estimate at $47,800. They went to the phones, too.

Lee Marks almost doubled the high estimate in buying Harry Callahan's Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, for $33,460. Then a single phone bidder bought Andre Kertesz's Distortion at the low estimate, apparently the reserve, for $23,900. But the Stieglitz nude of Georgia Engelhard ($150,000-$200,000) passed. It was not signed and it was printed a bit later (circa 1940s and on later archival board), but it was a very nice print. It bought in at a more reasonable, but still a bit reaching $100,000.

Rose Shoshana came back to take Lee Miller's Self-Portrait at a premium of $33,460 and Deborah Bell followed by bidding $31,070 for August Sander's Portrait of Otto Dix. Chuck Close's Polaroid Self-Portrait (Diptych) went at the low estimate (and apparently the reserve again) of $47,800 to a single phone.

After the lunch break, a group of photographs from the Enron Collection, sold without reserve, did fairly well. Julie Moos's Hat Ladies flipped its lid when it sold over high estimate to Carol Ehlers of La Salle Bank for $43,020 (a world auction record for the artist--given that this was her first appearance at auction). Vik Muniz's After Van Gogh fetched $29,875, but his contemporary imitations did even better: After Mark Rothko at $32,265, Chuck [Close, that is] at $44,215, and the most important of the series, After Gerhard Richter at $54,970.

Phillips claimed another world auction record for an artist when Allen Ginsberg's Fifteen Portraits sold for $16,133 to Howard Greenberg. And Shirin Neshat's Speechless (the smaller print in an edition of 10) sold for just over the high estimate at $15,535 to a phone bidder.

There were not a lot of fireworks the rest of the way. Alice Ross George took Frank's Charleston, South Carolina (the black nurse and white baby) for $38,240, but that was about it.

In the end, Phillips had a strong sale: $3,115,704 on a buy-in rate of 35%. With the $1,383,595 for the Joshua P. Smith Collection, the three-day total was a hefty $4.5 million.

"The record prices reinforce the significance of these artists," said Joshua Holdeman, Director of Photographs at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg. "Eggleston's 'Memphis (Tricycle)' represents the very moment color photographs entered the canon and with the emerging interest in the complex works of Diane Arbus, it is not surprising that such rare, high quality photographs would inspire such fierce bidding. The enthusiastic competition was not only for works by Arbus, Eggleston, but also for those by Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and others, indicating that the demand for post-war American Photography only continues to grow."